Planning for the future


Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised nations. Most of Australia’s population lives in our cities, and the bulk of our national economic output is generated there. Our population is projected to reach more than 35 million by mid-century, and more than 70 per cent of this growth will be in the capital cities.

Currently, many of the planning and delivery functions for our cities are characterised by complex and overlapping processes, and lack clear lines of accountability. Consistent and integrated metropolitan planning, supported by an effective governance and delivery function, should be a high priority for Australian, state and territory governments.

The Australian Infrastructure Plan, released in early 2016, stated that ‘the Australian Government needs to play a more active role in the development and governance of cities than ever before. Planning for population growth is too great a task to leave to chance’ (Infrastructure Australia 2016).

The Australian Government’s Smart Cities Plan outlines how policy, investment and technology can deliver integrated long-term planning, targeted investment and urban policy reform. The Cities Division in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has responsibility for working across government—and with state, territory and local governments—to implement the plan to deliver better urban outcomes. City Deals are the primary tools for delivering the Smart Cities Plan, and represent a new approach to coordinating investment, planning and reform across the 3 levels of government, in partnership with business and communities. Initial City Deals have been announced for Townsville, Launceston and western Sydney. They will focus on improved access to quality local jobs, housing affordability, and the sustainability and amenity of our cities (DPMC 2016).

Done well, metropolitan planning enables state, territory and local governments to methodically respond to the challenges posed by population growth, environmental degradation and economic development. Increasing the delivery of high-quality, medium-density to high-density development in established urban areas and close to transport infrastructure has been identified as a way of providing Australia’s cities with a viable path towards more compact, affordable and environmentally sustainable urban environments. Increased densification also needs to be planned for improved access to high-quality public open space and amenities, such as art and cultural spaces (Infrastructure Australia 2016).

For example, the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment released A plan for growing Sydney in December 2014 (NSW DPE 2014). This plan focuses on bringing stakeholders together to develop world-class services and transport, deliver greater housing choices, create communities with a strong sense of wellbeing, and safeguard the natural environment. It is essentially an integrated vision and plan for what Sydney will look like by 2031. Similarly, Plan Melbourne (Victorian Government 2014) was released in May 2014, and the Victorian Government has committed to refreshing and updating the plan to reflect a long‐term vision for providing housing, increasing jobs and livability, integrating public transport and infrastructure, and addressing climate change. All states and territories have similar strategic plans in various stages of review and update.

Tools such as the information generated from i-Tree analysis of Australia’s urban local government areas (see Natural environment) could also provide a simple metric to aid strategic decision-making in relation to the greening of our cities (see Figure BLT37). The City of Sydney, for example, is pursuing a strategy to increase urban greening through the incorporation of vegetation into the existing built environment (see Box BLT17).

Coleman S (2016). Built environment: Planning for the future. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65a5037ed8